Nepal is being overwhelmed by a Covid-19 surge as India's outbreak spreads across South Asia, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said yesterday.
"We need to act now and we need to act fast to have any hope of containing this human catastrophe. This virus has no respect for borders and these variants are running rampant across Asia," said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific director for the Geneva-based agency representing the global humanitarian network.
Nepal is now recording 57 times as many cases as a month ago, with 44% of tests now coming back positive, the statement said.
Nepalese towns near the Indian border could not cope with the growing number of people needing treatment, while only 1% of the country's population was fully vaccinated.
"What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal's future if we cannot contain this latest Covid surge that is claiming more lives by the minute," said Netra Prasad Timsina, chair of the Nepal Red Cross.
"It is beyond distressing to see that people cannot say goodbye to their loved ones as cremations are taking place at record levels due to these new Covid variants, which are striking down people of all ages in Nepal."
India accounted for nearly half the cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said yesterday, as Covid-19 deaths in the south Asian nation rose by a record 3,780 during the past 24 hours.
In a weekly report, the WHO said India accounted for 46% of global cases and a quarter of global deaths reported in the past week.
Daily infections rose by 382,315 yesterday, health ministry data showed. The number has been in excess of 300,000 every day for the past two weeks.
Hospitals are scrabbling for beds and oxygen as they desperately battle a second deadly surge in infections, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.
Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen.
In a scathing take-down, the Allahabad High Court has observed that the death of Covid-19 patients just for non-supply of oxygen to hospitals is a criminal act "not less than a genocide" by authorities entrusted with the task of ensuring that the oxygen supply chain is maintained.
A top scientific advisor to the government said a third wave was "inevitable" and the authorities should be prepared for it, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
"A phase three is inevitable given the higher levels of circulating virus but it is not clear on what time scale this phase three will occur. We should prepare for new waves," K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government, Centre told the media in New Delh yesterday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, as religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people to "super spreader" events.
"We need a government. Desperately. And we don't have one. We are running out of air. We are dying," the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy wrote in an opinion piece that called for Modi to step down.
India's delegation to the Group of Seven foreign ministers' meeting in London is self-isolating after two of its members tested positive for Covid-19, Britain said yesterday.
Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is in London, said in a Twitter message that he would attend virtually. Broadcaster Sky News said Jaishankar did not test positive for the virus, however.
The eastern state of West Bengal, which dealt Modi's party a defeat in an election last week, suspended local train services and limited working hours for banks and jewellery shops, among its steps to limit infections.
FALL IN VACCINATIONS, TESTING
Medical experts say India's actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies. The country has added 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach its first 10 million.
Two "oxygen express" trains carrying liquid oxygen arrived in the capital, New Delhi, yesterday, railways minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have distributed oxygen supplies nationwide.
The government says supplies are sufficient but transport woes have hindered distribution.
India's surge in infections has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations because of supply and delivery problems.
At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, have reported a scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.
Lengthy queues formed outside two centres in the western city that still have vaccine supplies, and some of those waiting pleaded for police to open their gates earlier.
Daily testing has fallen sharply to 1.5 million, state-run Indian Council of Medical Research said yesterday, off a peak of 1.95 million on Saturday.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released $6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms yesterday, to counter the devastating coronavirus surge gripping the country.
The central bank also asked banks to allow more time for some borrowers to repay, as the infection surge threatens a nascent economic revival.
Public health experts believe India will not reach herd immunity any time soon, though hospitalisations and deaths will fall off within six to nine months, the Economic Times newspaper said.
Herd immunity is reached when a sufficiently large share of the population has been vaccinated or infected, generating antibodies.